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The best scientific images of 2020

From the Australian bushfires in January to the demolition of the Arecibo Telescope in December, here's our selection of the most stunning photos from 2020, as chosen by our picture editor James Cutmore.

The pandemic has dominated the airwaves for the last nine months, and rightly so. But that hasn’t stopped fearless photographers from getting out and documenting the scientific world.

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As the picture editor of BBC Science Focus, there’s no shortage of mind-blowing scientific imagery that arrives in my inbox, but here are a handful of my favourites that I hope might give you a slightly different perspective on the last 12 months.

For more incredible science photography check out:

1

January – Australian bushfires rage

LAKE TABOURIE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 04: Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency has been declared across NSW with dangerous fire conditions forecast for Saturday, as more than 140 bushfires continue to burn. There have been eight confirmed deaths in NSW since Monday 30 December. 1365 homes have been lost, while 3.6 million hectares have been burnt this fire season
Brett Hemmings/Getty Images

Lake Tabourie, Australia – 4 January

Residents look on as flames burn through bush on January 04, 2020 in Lake Tabourie, Australia. A state of emergency was declared across New South Wakes at the time this picture was taken.

It’s estimated that some 18m hectares of were burned during the 2019-20 bushfire season, destroying 2,400 homes and producing smog that authorities fear will endanger the lives of millions.

2

February – Storm Dennis floods the UK

HEREFORD, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 17: A rainbow appears over flooded fields in the Wye Valley, near the hamlet of Wellesley, following Storm Dennis on February 17, 2020 in Hereford, England. Storm Dennis is the second named storm to bring extreme weather in a week and follows in the aftermath of Storm Ciara. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Hereford, England – 17 February

A rainbow appears over flooded fields in the Wye Valley, near the hamlet of Wellesley, following Storm Dennis on February 17, 2020 in Hereford, England.

Storm Dennis is the second named storm to bring extreme weather in a week and follows in the aftermath of Storm Ciara.

3

March – Covid-19 sweeps across the world

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - MARCH 11: A disinfection worker sprays anti-septic solution against COVID-19 aboard a firetruck along a street on March 11, 2020 in Manila, Philippines. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday declared a state of public health emergency as the number of people infected with COVID-19 in the country rose to 33 from just 3 cases last week. With over 115,000 confirmed cases around the world, the coronavirus has so far claimed over 4,000 lives
Photo by Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

Manila, Philippines – 11 March

A disinfection worker sprays antiseptic solution against COVID-19 aboard a firetruck along a street.

4

April – Bioluminescent waves shine in California

HERMOSA BEACH, CA - APRIL 25: Bioluminescent waves glow off the coast of Hermosa Beach, CA, Saturday, April 25, 2020. The phenomenon is associated with a red tide, or an algae bloom, filled with dinoflagellates which react with bioluminescence when jostled by the moving water. During the daytime, due to the pigmentation of the dinoflagellates, the water can turn a deep red, brown, or orange color, giving red tides their name
Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Hermosa Beach, CA, USA – 25 April

Bioluminescent waves glow off the coast of California. The phenomenon is associated with a red tide, or an algae bloom, filled with dinoflagellates which become bioluminescent when jostled by the moving water. During the daytime, due to the pigmentation of the dinoflagellates, the water can turn a deep red, brown, or orange, giving red tides their name

5

May – Social distancing in the USA

TOPSHOT - An aerial view shows people gathered inside painted circles on the grass encouraging social distancing at Dolores Park in San Francisco, California on May 22, 2020 amid the novel coronavirus pandemic
JOSH EDELSON/AFP via Getty Images

Dolores Park, San Francisco, USA – 22 May

An aerial view shows people gathered inside painted circles on the grass encouraging social distancing amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

6

June – Annual solar eclipse in India

The moon moves in front of the sun during an annular solar eclipse as seen through clouds from New Delhi on June 21, 2020
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images

New Delhi, India – 21 June

The moon moves in front of the sun during an annular solar eclipse as seen through clouds from New Delhi.

7

July – High-tech Indoor farming glows in the Netherlands

An employee works at the PlantLab production hall in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, on July 29, 2020. - The company grows crops in high-tech cultivation areas, which no longer require daylight and can be grown in stacked layers
REMKO DE WAAL/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Amsterdam, Netherlands – 29 July

An employee works at the PlantLab production hall in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. – The company grows crops in high-tech cultivation areas, which no longer require daylight and can be grown in stacked layers

8

August – SpaceX Dragon capsule in the Gulf of Mexico

GULF OF MEXICO - AUGUST 2: In this handout image provided by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, is lifted onto the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship after landing in the Gulf of Mexico on August 2, 2020 off the coast of Pensacola, Florida. The Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program. The test flight serves as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceXs crew transportation system. Behnken and Hurley launched at 3:22 p.m. EDT on Saturday, May 30, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011
Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Gulf Of Mexico – 2 August  

In this handout image provided by NASA, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule spacecraft, with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley onboard, is lifted onto the SpaceX GO Navigator recovery ship after landing in the Gulf of Mexico on August 2, 2020 off the coast of Pensacola, Florida.

The Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The test flight serves as an end-to-end demonstration of SpaceX’s crew transportation system.

Behnken and Hurley launched at 3:22 p.m. EDT on Saturday, 30 May, from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

A new era of human spaceflight is set to begin as American astronauts once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011.

9

September – A troupe of dancing Chinese robots hit the floor

QINGDAO, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 22: Ubtech robots dance to the music during 2020 East Asia Marine Cooperation Platform Qingdao Forum on September 22, 2020 in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China
Yu Fangping/VCG via Getty Images

Qingdao, China – 22 September

Ubtech robots dance to the music during 2020 East Asia Marine Cooperation Platform Qingdao Forum on 22 September 2020 in Qingdao, Shandong Province of China.

10

October – Italian blast off

On 1 October 2020, the Zefiro-9 motor seated on the test bench in Cagliari, Sardinia performed its final qualification hot firing. It burned for 120 s using 10 t of solid propellant. The Zefiro-9 will power the third stage of the Vega-C launch vehicle
Avio/ESA

Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy –1 October

The Zefiro-9 motor seated on the test bench performing its final qualification hot firing. It burned for 120s using 10 t of solid propellant. The Zefiro-9 will power the third stage of ESA/AVIO Vega-C launch vehicle has been designed to launch small payloads into Earth orbit

11

November – Nasa’s Artemis gets closer to launch

The aft segments of the Space Launch System solid rocket boosters for the Artemis I mission moves from high bay 4 inside the VAB for stacking on the mobile launcher inside high bay 3.
NASA/KSC

Florida, USA – 21 November

The aft segments of the Space Launch System solid rocket boosters for Nasa’s Artemis I mission moves from high bay 4 inside the VAB for stacking on the mobile launcher inside high bay 3.

12

December – James Bond star begins to fade

TOPSHOT - This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. - The radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which once starred in a James Bond film, collapsed Tuesday when its 900-ton receiver platform fell 450 feet (140 meters) and smashed onto the radio dish below
RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Arecibo, Puerto Rico – 1 December  

This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke. The radio telescope in Puerto Rico, which once starred in a James Bond film, collapsed when its 900-ton receiver platform fell 450 feet (140 meters) and smashed onto the radio dish below.

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